Patent Trivia – Fun with Some Facts about Patents

Patents are important business or commercial tools. Technology expressed in legal language is one way of looking at them. A formidable combination for many. Everyone concerned take them seriously – and rightly so. If we do not, the consequences could span the whole gamut of mildly embarrassing to disastrous financial implications. But it should not prevent us from taking a light-hearted look at patents and still learn a lesson or two.

Glenn T Seaborg (April 19, 1912 – February 25, 1999) was a Nobel Prize winning (1951) American chemist. He is the sole inventor of two patents numbered- US3156523A and US3161462A – assigned to the Atomic Energy commission of the United States. They have perhaps the shortest independent claims ever. The claims are “Element 95” and “Element 96” respectively!

If you are not familiar with some science and were given these claims, you would perhaps not even know what has been invented. If you were told that they were chemical elements you would be perplexed because naturally occurring chemical elements are discovered and hence are outside the purview of patents. But then, if you looked at the complete patents, you would see that the first one is titled “Element 95 and method of producing said element” and the second is titled “Element 96 and compositions thereof”.

Learning a little of both chemistry and patents, you would discover that element 95 (Americium) and 96 (Curium) are artificial elements created in cyclotrons.

When we think of Einstein, we think of the genius who published three path-breaking papers in 1905. They were so important changed the course of physics that they appeared miraculous – one (then unknown) man publishing three such papers in one year. So, 1905 is referred to as annus mirablis – Latin for the miracle year, in the history of science. Hence, we may find it difficult to believe that this “head-inthe-clouds” scientist could have patents! He does. One for a refrigerator and another an American design patent (which we would call a registered design in India) for a blouse! But you might find it interesting to do a patent search with the name Einstein and you will get a hitlist of patents with Einstein – Albert and many other Einsteins, as inventors, names of Einstein’s theories in the text of the patents, Assignee’s names that contain the name Einstein and so on.

Still on the subject Einstein: many seem to think that his theory of relativity is “just a theory” – never proved or disproved and has no practical value. On the contrary! Not only has theories and predictions have been proved again and again, the Global Positioning System (GPS) uses his theory of relativity. The theory of relativity predicted that velocity and gravity make clocks run slower. The clocks on the satellites that are a part of the GPS system run slower because the satellites travel at 3.9 km per second (~14000 kmph) that is fast enough to slow down their onboard clocks. Similarly, the earthbound clocks of the system are closer to the centre of the earth and hence experience a far stronger gravitational field. Hence, they run slower too. Without correction the whole system will go out of sync and GPS would become useless in no time at all!

Einstein was not the only “celebrity” to get patents. What we may find hard to believe is that a glamourous Hollywood personality would be a famous inventor too. Hedy Lamarr was such an actor. She invented a basic version of the frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology used in mobile telephony today.

Though the purpose of her invention was to prevent remote controlled torpedoes immune to jamming of the communication channel.

Even those who are not fans of popular western music would have hardly missed the antigravity lean by Michael Jackson. It is said that he stunned the music world when he performed this move in which his body appeared to defy gravity. Michael Jackson, with two other inventors, had invented a device that enabled him to perform that on stage – patent numbered US5255452A and titled “Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion”.

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States had a patent granted. Patent numbered US6469A and was titled “Buoying vessels over shoals”. Till date, he is the only president of the United States to have a patent to his name.

Nearer home, the famous Indian scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose got a patent (Patent numbered GB190115467A) titled “Improvements in and connected with Wireless Telegraphy and other Signalling” And in a related field Sam Pitroda, the man responsible for telephony revolution the country, has some 97 patents to his name.

The patent numbered US6,953,802 has a single claim with more than 17,000 words and covers almost the whole of column 59, to column 101. However, there are two other interesting claims to fame. Published application numbered USUS20030173072, titled “Forming Openings in a Hydrocarbon Containing Formation Using Magnetic Tracking” contained 8,958 claims. It was eventually issued as a patent numbered US6,991,045 with a still formidable 90 claims. The highest number of claims (887 claims) is in a patent numbered US6,684,189, titled “Apparatus and method using front-end network gateways and search criteria for efficient quoting at a remote location”

The longest published patent application is said to be the application numbered US20070224201A1 titled “Compositions and Methods for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Tumor”. It has 7,154 pages. The longest granted patent is numbered US6,314,440, titled, “Pseudo Random Number Generator”. It has 3,333 pages, out of which, 3,272 contain drawings.

Finally, the title of the shortest patent is “Metroprolol Succinate”. Patent numbered US5,081,154 is just half of a page long.

As we can see, there is a considerable amount of interesting facts and figures about patents – a world which is generally considered to be serious and even “dry” by some people.


Article by J L Anil Kumar, 1st published on Lexology

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